Australia will contribute $2 million to help provide emergency food aid to the crisis in Niger, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruce Billson, announced today.
'The situation in Niger is desperate and compelling. Australia's contribution through the World Food Programme (WFP) aims to save lives and support the international relief effort,' Mr Billson said.
'United Nations agencies are reporting severe levels of malnutrition, particularly amongst women and children after the rapid deterioration in the food situation due to severe drought and a locust plague.
'More than 3.6 million people, almost a third of Niger's population are affected, with one in every five children malnourished. In the past week the UN doubled their funding appeal for assistance and the WFP tripled its estimate of people in need of food aid,' Mr Billson said.
'Although the focus of Australia's aid program is in our Asia Pacific neighbourhood, the Australian Government is working with international agencies in Africa to help relieve the suffering.
'Australia also contributed $300,000 to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in September 2004 for locust plague control measures in West Africa. Niger lies within the arid Sahelian belt south of the Sahara desert, where the locust plague began in mid-2004 in Mauritania,' Mr Billson said.
Since then, the locust plague has been slowly making its way east across the Sahel with devastating impact on several countries and is now reported to be in Chad and in Darfur, Western Sudan.
'In addition to this latest $2 million food assistance for Niger, Australia has contributed $37 million in emergency relief since July 2004 for crises across Africa including West Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.
Shane Fairlie (Mr Billson's office) 0408 680 442
AusAID (Public Affairs) 0417 680 59